When he told the late Tony Hayers to “smell my cheese” more than 20 years ago, it seemed that the days of Alan Partridge on primetime BBC television were well and truly over.
He would see out his broadcasting days on digital-only local radio, with straight to video car chase narration and perhaps, if he was very lucky, a few more series of Skirmish on UK Conquest.
But everything’s changed for Alan. While the rest of the country has been preoccupied with backstops and Boris and Brexit, he’s been Bouncing Back!
2019 is the year that Alan Partridge is once again back on the BBC. Not BBC3, not BBC2: no, for the first time, Alan’s got himself a gig on BBC1.
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This Time with Alan Partridge chronicles the journey of one of Britain’s most divisive television presenters (but most loved comedy creations), as he is catapulted back into the big time as stand-in host alongside early-evening favourite Jenny Gresham on ever-so-familiar looking magazine show, This Time.
In no doubt that this could be his last chance at mainstream broadcasting, Alan draws upon every ounce of his three decades of media experience to impress the viewers – and BBC bosses.
The result? Some of the best Alan Partridge ever made.
Written by Steve Coogan, Neil Gibbons and Rob Gibbons, the new partnership who have been custodians of brand Partridge since the Mid Morning Matters web series began in 2010, This Time with Alan Partridge depicts full 30-minute episodes of the magazine show in real time.
However, unlike Alan’s previous TV show Knowing Me, Knowing You, this time we don’t see the broadcast version of the programme. Instead, when most of the VTs are playing, we continue to see what’s happening in the studio, off air.
This device allows regular gear changes in the show, and for us to observe both on and off screen Partridge. It’s a perfect hybrid of all the best Partridge that has gone before – from the proud puffed-up presenter of KMKYWAP to the depressed desperation of I’m Alan Partridge.
A stellar performance from Susannah Fielding as Alan’s co-presenter Jenny Gresham (a very well-observed Alex Jones meets Susannah Reid) is complemented by occasional but sublime turns by Tim Key, who returns as Simon Denton (now manning a social media screen he can’t work). Felicity Montagu’s familiar PA Lynn even drops in and out whenever the cameras stop rolling.
The scene is set for premium Partridge from the top drawer. This is a platform for Alan’s eternal on-screen optimism – “Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at Shell” – and his common sense skepticism – the World Health Organisation? “Here we go…”
This is a place for classic Partridgian VTs of the caliber of Knowing Me Knowing Yule’s private Christmas shop in Tandy; one of the best early examples sees Alan investigate the spread of germs. It’s also a place for him to showcase his extraordinary interviewing skills. In episode one he unmasks a hacktivist in classic Partridge style, reminiscent of when he exposed Lt Col Kojak Slaphead III as Martin Dwire back in Knowing Me, Knowing You.
But with the behind the scenes encounters, there’s also a forum for the broadcasting demons which have haunted him since ‘Auntie’ was last his paymaster to multiply. This, fuelled by Lynn’s trademark paranoia, is another rich vein of comedy.
If you’ve never seen Alan Partridge before (you probably won’t understand many of the words so far in this article, but…) you will still enjoy this show, because on one level it’s a funny parody of The One Show and countless other magazine shows. However, if – like me – you are a fan, perhaps even a student of Partridge, this show reaches parts that us ageing Patrovians didn’t dare dream could be stimulated again.
It’s brought Alan right up to date while knowingly nodding to everything that has gone before. It’s a Partridge for all seasons, a seriously funny piece of great British comedy that will delight all those who spent their formative years shouting “Lynn, they’re sex people”, “Stop getting Bond wrong”, and “Dan, Dan… Dan!” at each other down the pub.
There’s six episodes to enjoy, and you get the feeling this idea has enough legs to go beyond the first run.
And, with a new home on BBC1, this could be the moment that Britain’s favourite cult comedy character explodes back into the big time. Not my words, Carol… the words of
Top Gear magazine RadioTimes.com.